Douglas Constable, the chairman and CEO of plastics medical device maker Springboard Manufacturing, thinks he was always on the executive track, even if he wouldn't have said it that way early on.
"I don't know that I could have voiced that in my 20s, but I think if I look back at it and what drove me and what got me focus, it's that leadership kind of role that I always seem to have been drawn to," he said. "I've just always been the guy that wants to be the first one in and the last one out."
Constable joined Springboard in late 2017, when the contract manufacturer was bought by HC Private Investments, a Chicago-based private equity company.
Prior to that, he had been chief executive officer at medical textile maker AccuMed Corp. in Buffalo, N.Y., from 2012 to 2016. Before that, he had a 20-year-plus career in medical device manufacturing and distribution, with a focus on plastics.
Looking back, he thinks company leadership was something he was aiming at.
"For me, it's always been wanting to do better and to do more," he said. "Most CEOs I know don't take days off — they're constantly going; it's how their brains work. That's the kind of the life we choose, either consciously or unconsciously."
Medical plastics wasn't preordained, though.
Constable graduated college in 1987 with a bachelor's degree in accounting and decided after a two-year stint as a public accountant that it wasn't for him. So he joined a client's company that distributed plastic medical devices and discovered he liked the industry.
Fast forward 30 years, Constable said he's trying to launch Springboard through a period of growth, preparing his team and working to see that they have the resources they need.
"One of the things I try to instill in our organization is the ability for our teams to make decisions without having to come to me or executive management," he said. "Over the years I've learned if you try to get people to do things your way, you usually fail. You have to hire people whose judgment you trust and let them do it their way."
His career track includes a good deal of mergers and acquisitions work. Since he became Springboard's CEO, the company has bought three injection molding and mold making companies in California and consolidated several smaller facilities from a legacy operation into its South Bend, Ind., headquarters.
"I've spent a lot of my career doing mergers and acquisition work, consolidating and also selling them over the years," he said.
That career path included senior executive roles in more than 10 years spent at Ventlab Corp., a North Carolina-based maker of plastic respiratory and anesthesia products that did much of its manufacturing in China.
Right now, it's translating to growth at Springboard.
The company is seeing year-on-year sales up 30 percent this year, he said, and it's in the process of adding about 30 injection molding machines, which would give it about 140 presses.
Because of new contracts and projects delayed by COVID-19 that are now coming on, he estimates sales could rise from around $70 million this year to more than $120 million by the end of 2022.
"2022 will be a huge growth year for us," he said. "The diagnostic side of our med device business has grown tremendously, with a fire lit by COVID and the funding provided to those types of businesses."
While Constable describes himself as focused, he said that's not the most important quality for a CEO.
The best career advice he ever got, he said, was to "always think about the other guy."
"I try hard to see the perspective of the person or group I am working with so that I can arrive at reasonable decisions that take all sides into account," Constable said.
It meshes with some early advice he had from a mentor in a medical device sales job and partner and friend in business after that, Bob Martin.
"He was a seasoned salesman who taught me the importance of listening more than speaking and of putting employees first whenever possible by connecting with them on a personal level," Constable said.
He sees the soft approach as crucial in a contract manufacturing operation like custom plastic injection molding, as the 450-employee company tries to compete for employees in an extremely tight labor market.
"Labor is such a struggle right now," he said. "In contract manufacturing, there's always somebody that will pay somebody a little more. But we attract people because we try to create an environment where they want to stay."
Constable said he sees himself as a work in progress as a leader, always trying to do better.
"I think what differentiates me in our world is that I do try to take the time to understand each person's perspective that I'm talking to," he said. "I had a person early in my career who taught me the old saying, 'We don't live to work; we work to live.'
"So when employees have a problem, whether it's a problem on the job or off the job, I think it's our duty to help them solve that the best way we can, or at least be understanding of it," he said.